Tales From A Bartender: Homecoming

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To bartenders in college bars, the evening shift on a game day is the holy grail of work opportunities. A veritable guarantee for a packed house, game day night shifts are highly coveted among drink spinners, and competition for a spot on the counter is pretty fierce. This probably isn’t entirely shocking, but on a per-night basis, bartenders in college watering holes don’t bring home much cash. Short of a special event, there just aren’t enough people out slamming Tequila Sunrises on an average Tuesday to make the time spent manning the line worth the commitment. The disparity in profit from bar traffic on a weekday versus a weekend can easily total in the hundreds of dollars, meaning the battle for a Saturday time slot carries with it a pretty large monetary incentive. However, even among Saturdays, there is one specific day that stands head and shoulders above the rest: homecoming.

Homecoming Saturday is one of, if not the most, lucrative day a college bar has the entire year. The combination of the influx of alumni and the overtly festive atmosphere makes for a booming bar economy, of which bartenders are a hefty beneficiary. In a lot of ways, homecoming Saturday is a cocktail jockey’s Christmas. Older, portly alumni order name brand alcohol and deliver gifts of large tips and good cheer. So, after several years of missing out on working homecoming game day (my bar assigned priority based on seniority), I was elated when I finally managed to secure a spot on the night shift. As the homecoming game started that evening, I walled myself in at the bar, double prepped my station and excitedly waited for the rush.

Around half-time, an older customer wandered into the bar alone. He looked exactly like Vikings-era Brett Favre; salt and pepper beard, close-cropped hair and the wily weathered look of a veteran who had sent his share of penis portraits to much younger women. He sat in my section of the counter, mumbled something about his wife not being able to make it through the game, and ordered two Bud Lights. After I brought him his beer (he opted to go with actual glass bottles instead of the plastic cups the prototypical college tailgater prefers) he elected to keep his tab open, and dropped a crisp $100 bill on the bar top.

Now, big tips will go a long way in guaranteeing you get good service and are served before other people, but when the amount of money is exceptionally high, it arouses some suspicion. A lot of people believe that tipping bartenders large amounts entitles them to take certain liberties in the bar that it definitely does not. For example, after a reasonably high tip, a kid tried to jump behind the bar and make his own drink, a pretty fucking big no-no in the bar world. In addition to stupid shit like that, I know that some of my female colleagues were expected to provide “services” after a patron had tipped them well all evening, and that patron was pretty angry when he was told that the girls didn’t come with the drinks. So, when Brett slipped a $100 bill in with his first order, I figured I was in for some sort of request down the line.

I didn’t have to wait long before I received it. About half an hour after the game had finished and Brett was four beers in, he called me over to his spot on the bar. Stealthily, he pulled the corner of what appeared to be a Ziploc Bag full of white powder from one of his pockets and gestured toward it in order to draw my attention.

“You have anywhere where I could have some privacy?” he whispered.

I looked him like he was crazy. It’s not like it was the first time I had seen cocaine in the bar, but it was the first time anyone was brazen enough to call my attention to it. My bar had an official no drugs inside stance, so I quickly shot the guy down. He rolled his eyes at my rebuke and asked to see my manager. As we were already packed and I couldn’t leave my station, I grabbed one of our runners and had her go retrieve our evening manager for Brett.

After about 15 minutes, my manager showed up and the two men started up what appeared to be a friendly conversation. I was manning one of my colleague’s sections of the counter while he hooked a new keg up to our draught line so I was too far away to hear what was said between them, but eventually Brett got up from his seat and followed my manager into the masses of people behind them. I assumed some deal had been worked out and that was the last I had seen of Mr. Favre for the evening. And yet, not 25 minutes later, Brett, looking a lot more awake than he had been earlier, re-appeared from the crowd and reclaimed his seat in my section. I couldn’t believe it.

Brett flashed me a toothy smiled and signaled that I should approach him. “Amaretto Sprite,” he yelled over the deafening music. I stared at him as I made his drink. I had no idea what the fuck the guy said to my manager (a hardline dick head), but judging by the dinner plate sized pupils he was currently sporting, he had spent enough time in the snow to qualify for the Winter Olympics. As I brought him his dessert drink, he leaned into the bar and gestured to me to get closer.

“You have any Maraschino cherries back there?” he inquired.

I nodded my head yes.

“Good, give me two jars of them.”

I went to our mini fridge where we kept garnishes and retrieved two jars of Maraschino cherries for him. I set them down on the bar and he popped the lids on both of them before dumping half of one into the Amaretto Sprite concoction I made for him. He asked me how much he owed me, and I replied that I had no idea because I had never charged anyone for jars of Maraschino cherries before. He just took out his wallet, dropped two twenties on the bar and said: “That should cover it.”

For the next four hours, Brett just sat on his stool, burning his way through alcoholic Shirley Temples by the pint glass. He chatted with the people around him as they came up to the bar for drinks. If they were patrons he liked or girls he thought were attractive, he would call me over and demand that I charge their drinks to his tab and then add a round of shots on for all of them to enjoy. Kamikazes, cement mixers, lemon drops; he didn’t discriminate. And every fourth round of shots or third Amaretto Sprite refill, he would drop a $20 on the bar in front of him for me, virtually ensuring that I was at his beck and call.

On a night when we ran a $10 all you can drink wells special until Midnight, the man spent over $300 in booze, not counting the cherries or my tips. When we finally rang the bell for last call and he asked me to close him out, he barely glanced at the check I placed in his hand. As he stood from his perch to leave, he turned to me and gave a thumbs up.

“Thanks for the help, kid.” 

I nodded at him as he walked toward the exit, in awe of the man I had spent the night serving. A little later, as I was wiping down the bar top, my manager approached me and asked if the “guy who looked like Harrison Ford” had stuck around. When I answered that he had, my manager replied with “Good. Poor guy told me he was chafing really badly from walking around all day and needed a private spot to apply some baby powder, so I let him into the bathroom in the back.”

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Wooden hulled, three masted heavy frigate. Named by President George Washington.

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